Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lawn People by Paul Robbins: a book review

Ah, summer … the smell of newly mown grass, the gas-powered hmmmm.
Did you know that, like the cycles of women who live together, neighbors’ mowing cycles actually become synchronized over time? Regular visits from TruGreen are also inescapable components of the suburban summer routine, as the little warning signs that pop up all over town four or five times a summer attest. But even as your neighbors invest time and money into eliminating clover, dandelions, and evil grubs, they may just be a little worried about what those chemicals could be doing to their pets, their children, and your water. Still they schedule the local lawn tech guy; they obsess over edges; they fertilize. Robbins digs into the psychology behind the puzzling phenomenon and shares facts like:
If your neighbors use chemicals on their lawns you are more likely to do the same.
People who are more educated are more likely to involve themselves in risky lawn behavior.
People who take pride in their lawns are more apt to know their neighbors’ names.

Allowing a (gasp!) dandelion to bloom on your lawn is not just lax, it’s downright irritating to your fellow citizens. At least that’s what your neighbors are thinking, according to Robbins. He offers a few suggestions for reform-minded addicts. For one, your lawn does not have to be the boss of you. Realize that there’s a whole industry out there with a vested interest in making you think your turf has problems, making you feel like you’re a bad citizen if you let a little clover grow—which by the way was a desired part of all lawn mixes before 2,4-D came along. Then it all of a sudden became a nuisance, a most convenient development because 2,4-D does not discriminate between good and bad but kills all non-grass plants. Encourage diversity, says Robbins, and especially clover. It fixes nitrogen, so you won’t need to fertilize as much, or at all. And tolerate dynamism. Now who doesn’t love dynamism? Beware of “organic” (quotes are Robbins') alternatives; they may make you feel better but too much organic fertilizer is no better than too much chemical fertilizer.
Following the herd may be the path of least resistance, but think of it this way: not counterproductively killing plants like clover, not fertilizing, not collecting your clippings, not edging may be the easiest path to individuality you’ve got. You'll sleep better, and you'll have more time to plant gardens in your newly dynamic yard.
If you want to know more real facts about the lawn industry, the American lawn obsession, and the lawn ecology, read Lawn People.

Ok, now I’m going to go find out my neighbors’ names.

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